The Composer’s CV

I’ve been obsessing over my own CV for about 15 years, and I’ve read many other people’s CVs during that time. Either I read the CV to learn about the person, to get some inspiration for my own work, or because I was invited to critique and give feedback. 

You can see my CV here. Among the useful models for me are Nickitas J. Demos and Mark Applebaum.

Of course, The Professor is In has great advice (and strong opinions) on how a CV should look. 

What is a CV?

CV is short for curriculum vitae, Latin for “course of life.” It’s like a resume, except you list everything you’ve ever done that is somehow related to your career. It is primarily used in academia.

The academic job market has been abysmal for quite some time now, and is even worse after COVID-19. Whether you are trying to become a professor or not, I think it’s useful to keep this running document of your accomplishments (as it helps identify weak areas as well!)

I should note – the resume/CV distinction I’m writing about is primarily American. In other countries, a CV is what Americans call a resume. See also: chips vs. fries.

There a hundreds of sites out there where you can get advice about CVs, find templates, etc. I wanted to address what composers might have on their CV (which performers might find useful as well). 

Sections of a CV

You might have material for some or all of these sections, and they don’t necessarily need to come in this order. You may indeed shift them around as your priorities change. For example, when seeking your first or second teaching position, you might emphasize your Teaching Experience by putting it up front. When seeking tenure and promotion, you might emphasize your Publications and Performances, and move that section before Teaching.

Name and Contact information

If posting online, I would advise you to scrub your mailing address and probably your mobile phone number. 

Current position

If applicable – see “Employment” below

Education

These are your baseline credentials. Reverse chronological: PhD, MA, BM. No high school! Include the institution (obviously?) and the year you graduated. 

You might also consider including:

  • Additional Training like summer festivals and workshops
  • Primary Teachers
  • Additional Lessons and Masterclasses 

Employment

If you haven’t had a full-time position yet, you might skip this one. I’ve seen some people recommend putting Teaching Experience first, to emphasize those skills. I think it’s dependent on your career stage.

Publications and Presentations

I haven’t published that much, so I put them together. You might split them into separate headings Subheadings I use are:

  • Peer-reviewed publications
  • Peer-reviewed conference presentations
  • Other publications (newsletters, CD reviews, etc.)
  • Lectures on creative work (for someone else’s class)

Creative work

Some folks have different subheadings for their List of Works, their List of Performances, and sometimes their List of Commissions. That’s find but it could look a little redundant or look like you’re padding your document.

My Creative Works section is divided by genre (solo, chamber, electronic, etc.), and listed in reverse-chronological order. I did not divide by genre until I had a fair number of pieces in each category. If you have a dozen or less pieces, you might just put them in a reverse-chronological list.

I include any commission or requests in italics. I include all known performances. This is helpful to see which pieces have “legs” ad lots of performances (and also which pieces might need some more promotion!).

Discography and Bibliography

If you have pieces on a published album, list them here. This could potentially be moved to “Publications.” In my case, I have a number of self-released works so I don’t want to emphasize them more than warranted. It “counts” far more to have a piece on a label like Albany or Innova than it does to have an album on Bandcamp. 

Bibliography in this sense are publications about you (not written by you). Reviews, interviews, etc.

Awards and Honors

Prizes, residencies, etc. are natural here. Until recently, I included honors like my PhD fellowship, but it’s debatable whether a graduate assistantship is honorific enough to warrant a CV line.

Teaching experience

List institutions and courses taught, with year dates. If you taught while a graduate student, be sure to note “Instructor of Record” if that is the case. For TA positions, you could mention things like “taught break-out sessions,” “taught ear training lessons,” etc.

If you’ve taught private music lessons, workshops, etc., you could include this in an “Additional Teaching Experience” subheading.

Service and Related Experience

“Service” typically means things like:

  • Serving on committees at your institution
  • Reviewing submissions for conferences and publications
  • Officer positions in professional organizations
  • Producing conferences and similar events

“Related experience” could mean many things. For me:

  • I ran an independent Composers Workshop
  • I co-founded an ensemble
  • I’ve done work as an audio engineer, webmaster, etc.

I do not include really unrelated jobs like dog walker, barista, etc. 

Skills

I have a section for Concert Curation and Production since I have done that a lot. Many people include a “Software and technical skills” section. That sort of depends on what kind of position you’re looking for (and if you have skills). If all you know well is one notation program . . . maybe don’t make a separate section.

Professional affiliations

This is pretty standard, as it shows you are in some ways involved in your field. A few memberships composers might pursue:

  • ASCAP or BMI
  • American Composers Forum
  • College Music Society
  • Society of Composers, Inc.
  • National Association of Composers, USA
  • Society for Electroacoustic Music in the US

References

You don’t have to say “references available on request.” It’s generally understood that you’ll provide references if I ask. I’d recommend a separate file for these, as job applications often ask for them separately. I would definitely leave your reference list off any publicly-available PDF on your website–your references probably didn’t agree to have their contact info shared!

Conclusion

That’s basically it. Where I’ve found the “Composer CV” differs from CVs in other disciplines lies in the Creative Work and Related Experience sections. Most of us self-publish, which doesn’t “count” much in academia. But a number of performances and media reviews can be argued to constitute “impact” of your work. (Note: a published paper is going to be weighted WAY more than one performance of your flute solo). 

I’ve also found that most composers have a fair amount of Related Experience such as putting on concerts, doing audio-visual work, and the like, that your average English professor won’t want or need to do. 🙂

I regularly consult and coach folks working on their CVs, bios, websites, and application materials. If you could use some help, drop me a line.

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Welcome and thanks for checking out my work! -adam

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